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Sunday, November 15, 2015

On Stalin's Team The Years of Living Dangerously in Soviet Politics Sheila Fitzpatrick

Molotov when he was young (Wikipedia)

I liked Sheila Fitzpatrick's autobiography, but I didn't finish this book because I just found it a bit too confusing to follow all the purges, machinations and intrigues. It reminded me of why I much prefer Imperial Russian history!  However, it does emphasize what an important role Stalin's team played in the era, and it would be very useful for students of Russian history.

I received this free ebook from MUP via Net Galley in return for an honest review.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Modern Love The lives of John and Sunday Reed Lesley Harding and Kendrah Morgan

Portrait of Sunday Reed by Moya Dyring, Wikipedia

Imagine that you're a young artist and you've been invited to Heide. Imagine that you are charmed by Sunday, you enjoy one of her delicious lunches, and you discuss art with John and Sunday while you walk in the flower-filled gardens.  Imagine that they want you to stay and that they want to help you promote your art. What could be better?

Many artists thought that the art sanctuary that John and Sunday established at Heide was idyllic. One described it as 'heaven,' but another thought that it was too contrived.   John and Sunday patronised many Australian artists but their generosity was abused by several, notably Sydney Nolan.

This book provides a brilliant analysis of John and Sunday's strange but enduring Bohemian marriage ,their anguished relationship with Nolan and other great tragedies in their lives, such as the early deaths of many of their friends.  Lest some think that this book is too sad, however, John and Sunday had happy and lasting friendships, especially with Mirka Mora and her husband George.

Anyone who reads this book will want to visit Heide and read more about John and Sunday Reed and the other artists in this group.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Amberwell by D.E. Stevenson

Nell's mother is not pleased with her.  Nell and Anne don't enjoy going to parties with her and they don't bring young people to the house.  They are not companionable.  Even worse, they are not attracting young men! This is an impossible situation for Mrs Ayrton.

Nell finds her mother intimidating, but when war comes to the beautiful Scottish house of Amberwell, she has to cope by herself and discover her own identity.  Her sister and her step-brothers have gone and her mother is now elderly.  The house is falling into disrepair and tragedy awaits...

Vintage charm, likeable characters, a wartime love story, and a grand old house.  What could be better?  I am a big fan of D.E. Stevenson's gentle, old-world novels that take one into a different era. This was a little rambling at first because it describes the children of the family, but once Nell grows up and the war arrives the novel becomes much more interesting.

My challenge is now to read all of D.E. Stevenson's books!

Monday, November 09, 2015

Our Man in Charleston Britain's Secret Agent in the Civil War South by Christopher Dickey

The ruins of Mills House and nearby buildings. A shell-damaged carriage and the remains of a brick chimney are in the foreground, 1865 (Wikipedia)

Robert Bunch, the British Consul in Charleston, South Carolina had to walk a thin line.  He hated slavery and saw its terrible effects at first hand, but he often had to dissemble or charm the businessmen and plantation owners who strongly advocated it.  Many of them actually wanted to revive the slave trade from Africa.He needed a 'more delicate touch, more savoir faire,' and ''more social awareness' to achieve Her Majesty's ends in the excitable South than the more restrained North. It's a wonder that his story hasn't been told before, because he played such an important role in reporting events to the British government.

Bunch warned that the situation between the North and the South was likely to lead to war and he had to tread even more carefully when many states seceded and wanted recognition from Great Britain. They thought that Britain was so dependent on the cotton trade that they would do anything to help the South...

This fascinating tale by Christopher Dickey reads like a spy novel, and makes the reader feel as if Bunch is a friend.  I was very sorry to finish it, and I am interested in reading more books by Dickey.  It doesn't shy away from the gruesome details of slavery, however, and it is certainly an eye-opener for someone who lists Gone with the Wind amongst their favourite books!

I received this ebook from Blogging for Books in return for an honest review.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

The Promise of Provence Love in Provence Series, Book 1 Patricia Sands

Unfortunately, I couldn't get into this book. The writing just didn't 'grab' me.

I received this ebook from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

Fast Forward How Women Can Achieve Power and Purpose by Melanne Verveer, Kim K. Azzarelli

This combined facts about influential women who help other women with a self-help section.  Unfortunately, I found it a bit dull but the self-help part may be useful although I didn't think that it said anything new.

I received this free ebook from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Footprints in the Desert by Maha Akhtar

I enjoyed this novel by beautiful Maha Akhtar, but it was a bit like a Boy's Own Adventure story and it had a lot of coincidences.  Also,  I found the abundance of characters a bit confusing and the constant description of their heights annoyed me.  However, the likable hero, exotic setting and interesting story made up for these faults to a big extent.

Salah, a reluctant spy for the Arab Revolution, gets into several dangerous situations, such as helping a prisoner to escape and evading his Turkish enemies by finding secret tunnels.  He meets the intriguing Thomas Lawrence who is assisting Prince Faisal during the course of his travels, and starts to wonder whether the rumours about the English are right.  He also has to deal with his feelings for his friend's widow.

I would like to read Maha Akhtar's other books, but they're not translated into English, unfortunately.

I received this ebook from Open Road Integrated Media via Net Galley in exchange of an honest review.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Who Was The Real Father Brown?

(This is an article rather than a blog post, for a change!)

Who Was The Real Father Brown?

Millions of viewers across the world like to watch the new BBC series, “Father Brown,” based on G.K. Chesterton’s novels.  The wise, unassuming clerical detective remains popular. People in Birmingham in the UK even complained that the series was not shown at prime time! Several viewers also purchased the fictional stories because of the series.

Although there have been several priest and nun detectives since Father Brown, Chesterton is credited as being the first to invent this type of character.  It is amazing that he was not even a Roman Catholic when he began the famous tales. How did he think of such an unusual idea?

Father John O’Connor, an Irish priest and a good friend of the philosophical and intellectual Chesterton inspired the character of Father Brown. Father O’Connor’s intelligence and knowledge of the dark side of life learned in the Confessional showed him that ‘innocent’ priests were aware of the many different aspects of human nature.  He wrote that ‘… a man who does next to nothing but hear men’s real sins is not likely to be wholly unaware of human evil’. Indeed, the great writer was often frightened by the priest’s vivid tales of hell. This contrast spurred the idea of the seemingly unworldly Father Brown with his awareness of wickedness. When Chesterton overheard two Cambridge undergraduates complaining about the naïve nature of the clergy, he almost burst into ‘loud, harsh laughter’ in the drawing room because he understood that the two students knew about as much of real evil as babies.

Born in Clommel in Ireland, Father O’Connor came from the upper-middle class and received an excellent education in Europe.  He was ordained in Rome when he was only 24.  Although he led the relatively simple life of a parish priest in Bradford in Yorkshire, he must have had great charisma.   Frances Steinthal, a Jewish friend of Chesterton, even described him as ‘dazzling’. Father O’Connor knew many artists and writers, including Hilaire Belloc, David Jones and Eric Gill, and Chesterton converted to Catholicism because of the priest’s influence.

Father Brown differed from Father O’Connor in some crucial ways because Chesterton wanted to make him into an Englishman.  The writer made him untidy, clumsy and unassuming with a pudding-face, although the real man was neat, tidy and fastidious. He also gave him remarkable powers of observation and great logical deduction skills.

The fictional priest’s influence has also been great.  For example, he played a large part in actor Alec Guinness’s conversion.  The movie about Father Brown was being shot in a French village. As the actor walked home from the studio where he was acting the leading role, a French child calling him ‘Abbé’ trustingly took his hand because he was dressed as a priest. Guiness thought that: ‘a Church that could inspire such confidence in a child, making priests, even when unknown, so easily approachable, could not be as scheming or as creepy as so often made out’.  Guinness continued to think about this experience, and began going to Mass.

Father O’Connor would, no doubt, be pleased that the priest he inspired became such a well-loved and magnetic character.